Hannah Cranston of ThinkTank and The Young Turks discusses what’s involved in producing the viral news and culture videos.
If you’ve been on Facebook this year, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Hannah Cranston’s face in your news feed. Perhaps you caught her rebuking media outlets for blaming women for men’s killing sprees, explaining why tourism is down in the U.S. or chronicling the rise of the alt-right. The 26-year-old cohost and executive producer of ThinkTank, a YouTube talk show channel in TYT (The Young Turks) Network, has helped rack up more than 1.3 million subscribers and more than a half billion views on YouTube — and she’s nowhere near slowing down.
With millennials and Generation Z more engaged in current events than ever, ThinkTank’s daily videos defy genre by spanning them all — from Kim Jong Un to Gigi Hadid, from politics to pop culture, there’s no topic this channel is afraid to tackle. As a result, Cranston has found herself at the forefront of a digital movement redefining how we consume news and has emerged as an unafraid female voice known for balancing the fulcrum between information and entertainment.
Cranston spoke with Crixeo about her work with The Young Turks and ThinkTank.
How did you become involved with TYT University channel (rebranded as ThinkTank in 2015), and what was your path to becoming cohost and executive producer?
After I graduated college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I think I felt the same way most recent grads feel — excited to jump into the real world but not sure which way to leap, suffocated by mounting pressure to “have it all figured out” and scared AF. I took some time off to try and discover what my true “passion” was…and at the same time was going out on dates with guys who didn’t know what was going on in Syria. Needless to say, I was doubly encumbered. One night while complaining about these ill-informed bros, I mentioned to a friend that I wished there was a better way for my generation to get the news and get informed, and she mentioned The Young Turks. I looked them up when I got home and was so impressed by everything they were doing. I managed to finagle an interview and told them I would get them coffee, make copies, clean the toilet — whatever — just to get my foot in the door. They ended up hiring me as an intern, and four days after I started, they put me on camera! The show at the time was called TYT University, and shortly thereafter I became the permanent host, took over as executive producer and rebranded it to ThinkTank to reach a wider audience. It all happened so quickly and has been such a fun roller coaster ride!
In your experience, what are some of the benefits and/or disadvantages of YouTube vs. more traditional platforms, such as cable TV or print news? Do you believe the future of news is video?
YouTube is great because you can move quickly. You can have content up instantly, responding to the latest and biggest stories, and you can essentially throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks, in real time. Things can go viral instantly…and they can tank instantly. You know exactly how your audience feels about your content, for better or for worse, which allows you to adjust accordingly and keep getting better. In terms of news content, it’s great because that feedback serves as a constant check on everything you do, rather than a one-way street like traditional platforms. I am not in the business of spoon-feeding information to my viewers — they want to think critically, ask the hard questions and debate, which makes it a much more engaging and, in my experience, honest platform. YouTube is so personality based, so when viewers come to ThinkTank for news content, they know they’re getting my take, my perspective, my bias. And that’s what makes it real! Traditional news has bias; they’re just not honest about it, which is why I think there’s such a disenchantment with cable TV right now. I think the future of news isn’t necessarily video or print; I think it’s honesty, in whichever form it comes.
“Traditional news has bias; they’re just not honest about it, which is why I think there’s such a disenchantment with cable TV right now. I think the future of news isn’t necessarily video or print; I think it’s honesty, in whichever form it comes.”
You’ve found a niche in helping millennials understand current events and politics in a way that’s both engaging and entertaining. How do you think younger generations consume media compared to their parents and grandparents? What do millennials look for in a news source?
Gen Z-ers and millennials want news that talks to them, not at them. They want to engage with the content and respond and have you respond back! No one in our generation is sitting down at 6:00 p.m. to watch the nightly news with their TV dinners anymore. We’re really interacting with the news and thinking critically and forming opinions about the information we’re consuming. That’s the big thing — it’s OK to have an opinion. Prior generations’ newscasters maintained this facade of neutrality even though, of course, they had their own perspective on the matter, but the younger generations want to speak their mind and are too involved in what’s going on in the world for that. Younger generations want you to be authentic and upfront about your bias and perspective, even if they disagree with it. That said, presenting bias and perspective as “fact” is not the answer either.
As a talk show, ThinkTank also covers issues besides politics, including relationships, adulting and social issues. This seems to reflect the larger ways in which boundaries between pop culture and politics are becoming increasingly blurred. Do you think this is a consequence of the current administration, millennials or both?
I think it’s so funny when people say that they’re “just not into politics.” Everything is political! Politicians are legislating your pennies, your parties and your panties. I think young people are just more aware of how pervasive politics really are and how aware and alert we have to be to protect ourselves and our brothers and sisters from policies that try to police our rights, rather than protect them.
What has your experience been as a guest host on The Young Turks, and how has it differed from appearing on ThinkTank in terms of audience, reception and/or response?
Guest hosting on The Young Turks is different from hosting ThinkTank in a few ways: (1) it’s live, which lights a little extra fire under my bum, (2) I’m usually juggling two or three more people, with different perspectives, on a panel, compared to one other cohost on my show, and (3) the audience for TYT is definitely more politics-obsessed than my audience, so I really have to bring my A-game in terms of research on politicians, policies, etc., because they will call you out if you don’t know your shit! I love whenever I get the chance to guest host because it is different and challenging, so it’s always a fun ride.
In one of your recent Instagram posts, you mention being told you’re not a “real feminist” because you posted pictures in a bikini. What are some of the challenges of being a woman on the internet? How do you deal with it?
Girl…how much time do you have? Being a woman on the internet means opening yourself up to criticism on your appearance, your career, your life, the color nail polish you picked that week, and the diction you used in describing the weather — I wish I were being hyperbolic. The worst comments I receive are rooted in the simple fact that I am a woman — often they are sexually explicit, many times they are violent, and they are always misogynistic and offensive. When I first started on this journey, mean comments used to really get to me…but I also found that comments from young girls saying that they looked up to me also really got to me, in the best way possible. So I realized the women I look up to are not ruminating, crying over or even noticing some random comments from a twerp who can’t even say something to your face, so why should I? I want to be a woman young girls and boys can count on and can look to for inspiration, so some kid (or, more often than not, some 50-year-old with an entire family) who has something to say about my thighs or has an opinion on my female experience is not going to stop me.
The ThinkTank channel uploads a new video every day. How long does it take you to create a video that’s between six and eight minutes? How are you able to keep up with such a high volume of content creation?
It takes about six to eight minutes! Haha! We don’t really edit down our videos, so what you see is what you get — all the stumbles, tangents and mess-ups. There is a lot of prep work that goes into finding stories, researching the material, making the graphics, etc., that takes time, and we shoot seven to eight clips per day, which of course adds up, but the video aspect of it is pretty much all off-the-cuff and as raw and as honest as it gets. In terms of high volume of content, luckily (and unluckily) there’s a lot in the news right now that makes it easy.
What’s next for ThinkTank, and what’s next for Hannah Cranston?
ThinkTank has a brand-new shiny set and branding, which I’m stoked about! And Hannah Cranston, who apparently now refers to herself in the third person, has some very exciting things in the pipeline that are still hush-hush but will be revealed soooon on my Instagram and Twitter @HannahCranston, yes that was a shameless plug (Hannah Cranston has been known to do that kind of thing).